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Battered Gadhafi Hometown Faces Long Recovery

  • Al Pessin

In former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's hometown, the process of cleaning up from weeks of fierce fighting has begun. Sirte was the last battleground in the uprising that led to Gadhafi's ouster and death. Sirte, which until recently was something of a showplace, has a long road back.

You have to start somewhere. And these volunteers are starting here, on the city's main street, where it is all too clear that a few days ago this was a battlefield.

For these men it's personal. Whichever side they supported in the uprising, it was their town, once home to 80,000 people, that got destroyed. Volunteers are working day in and day out in the blazing sun.

"We have come together to clean up our country and protect it and to stand up for our city. The city was destroyed by both the rebels and the Gadhafi forces. It was destroyed by both sides," said Ali Saleh az-Zargah, a local merchant. He lost a lot in the fighting.

There is debris from inside his house, which was hit by multiple explosive weapons. It is vacant because his wife and his four children left before the worst of the fighting, and now he can't bear to let her come and see what happened.

"No, no, no, she (his wife) hasn't seen this," added az-Zargah. "If she saw it, she might faint. I can't let her come and see this until I fix it up and paint it."

Az-Zargah's store fared no better. It was once a high-end paint and home decorating shop. Now, it's a total loss. He estimates the damage at nearly half a million U.S. dollars. He has no income and no way to finance the rebuilding of his life.

"The United Nations said in its resolution that they want to protect civilians. I am a civilian. // I'm asking the United Nations and the National Transitional Council for help for the civilians of Sirte," he added.

Az-Zargah's shop and house are in what was once a beautiful seaside neighborhood. Some say the transitional forces wreaked particular havoc in Sirte because they considered the residents to be Gadhafi supporters.

Those who live here don't like to talk politics. They express optimism about the future but they're short on details. These men don't know how their city can possibly be rebuilt. But they do know the first step is to clean up, so they're making a start on that.